Bard in the Yard
That’s the thing with Shakespeare. As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on him he reminds you there’s more to be discovered and played with. Take Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With its subtle commentary on global warming, gender fluidity, patriarchal dominance, and even trigger warnings, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” invites you to view the past through the present, and the present through the past, courtesy of Shakespeare’s most hilarious of romps. Vaudevillian at times, full of magic, mischief, and mayhem, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” celebrates Shakespeare's wit, wisdom, and rambunctiousness in this hilarious comedy that pokes fun at love, tragedy, and theatre.
Like Shakespeare in the Park, Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival’s bard in the yard, directly across from Kilkenny Castle, places the bard outdoors under a big blue sky as the early evening descends. And they’re even prepared in the unlikely event of rain. Played in traverse, with its usual vocal issues, Shakespeare’s convoluted tale of love, longing, and magical misbehaviour weaves three tales of human lovers, rival fairies, and that most vainglorious of them all, theatre people, as they search through the woods on a midsummer night. As marriages are promised, elopements planned, rehearsals undertaken, and magic spells cast, the course of nothing ever runs smooth when the eternal vagaries and vanities of love, as well as the eternal vagaries and vanities of theatre, converge during a magical night in the forest.
Sacrificing the excessively polished for the eternally playful, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” delivers laughs galore as it rises to both the challenges, and joys, of the Castle Yard. With Sarah Jane Shiels’ minimal outdoor set featuring only a few movable objects, including a fairy-like drone, its left to her simple, yet superbly effective lighting design to establish “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s” otherworldly dimension. Subtly, yet beautifully supported by Denis Clohessy’s sound design and original composition. Yet it is Katie Davenport’s captivating costumes which clearly convey “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s” visual sensibility, one in which history often skirts close to nostalgia. Looking like an early 80s Vivienne Westwood collection stitched together with a heavy dose of 90s club culture, Davenport’s retro stylings capture all the fun, frolics, and flamboyance of student night at The Hacienda, or The Roxy. Even if some of the anarchic looks seem a little dated in places, Davenport’s vibrant, quirky, colourful costumes, showing just a hint of fetish, capture a punk-like, car crash, youthful energy that’s both striking and playful.
Indeed energy is the name of the game, with director Lynne Parker ensuring her cast have lots of it to spare. Enough to run endless laps around the playing area, with the medal for first prize going to Amy Conroy. Parker also ensures the language and convolutions of Shakespeare’s tale are both enjoyable and accessible without losing any of their richness or charm. All courtesy of Rough Magic’s latest ensemble, making an impressive and energetic debut, natural first night nervousness aside. Martha Breen, Amy Conroy, Peter Corboy, Aoibhéann McCann, Karen McCartney, Paul Mescal, Conor O’Riordan and Kieran Roche, each doubling up on roles, hit some utterly memorable moments, especially during a deeply satisfying second-half. McCann, along with McCartney, Roche, and Mescal are sensational as they engage in the ultimate lover’s quarrel. As are Corboy and O’Riordan, delighting as the Romeo and Juliet styled, star-crossed lovers, in a wonderful rendition of the best worst play and performance ever. Breen’s authoritative, and metallic looking Titania, is rendered with consummate attention to detail, right down to the whites of her eyes. Conroy’s Puck might channel 1970s naughtiness, go easy on the raunch, but Conroy is loving it and makes sure the audience does too, conscious it might include children. If some managed the nerves of a new ensemble’s debut a little better than others, most notably a hugely impressive Aoibhéann McCann, this ensemble, soon to return in Rough Magic’s forthcoming production of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for Dublin Theatre Festival, is well on its way to gelling into a force to be reckoned with.
As Rough Magic transitions into its next phase, with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Lynne Parker has gone back to her roots, delivering a production steeped in that raw, first flush of youth that wants to make theatre anyway it can, any place it can, simply because it can and needs to. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” might have a PG certificate, but there's still a fierce amount of devilment in the wink of its eye. And a new ensemble showing immense promise. With its youthful exuberance and can-do attitude, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” serves as a timely reminder that you can make theatre anywhere once you have heart, imagination, and the right people. And that Shakespeare is still the best fun to be had by a mile.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, produced by Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival and directed by Lynne Parker, runs at Castle Yard, Kilkenny as part of Kilkenny Arts Festival until August 18.
For more information, visit Rough Magic or Kilkenny Arts Festival.